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Hegarty of drf.com
Fravel, who was a longtime executive at Del Mar Thoroughbred Club before joining the Breeders’ Cup, will shift his duties from a company that focuses nearly all of its energies on a single two-day event near the end of the year to a company that owns and operates a number of top racetracks and a handful of racing companies year-round, including leading account wagering and simulcast marketing operations. One of its tracks, Pimlico, hosts the middle leg of the Triple Crown, the Preakness Stakes.
The move took the racing industry by surprise, considering the relatively stable atmosphere at Breeders’ Cup when compared to The Stronach Group, whose founder, Frank Stronach, is embroiled in a bitter legal battle with his only daughter, Belinda, the chairman of the company. In addition, The Stronach Groups’s marquee track, Santa Anita Park in Southern California, has weathered intense criticism this year because of a spate of deaths during the track’s six-month winter-spring meet.
“I am delighted to have Craig join our company at this pivotal moment in our sport,” said Belinda Stronach, in a release. “Craig’s stellar reputation and proven track record of leadership will enable us to further our goal to become North America’s preeminent horse racing organization as we work lock-step with industry partners to prioritize horse and rider safety.”
Under his title, Fravel will be responsible for management and oversight of all of the company’s racetracks and training centers, a list that includes Gulfstream Park and the Palm Meadows training center in Florida; Laurel Park and Pimlico in Maryland; Golden Gate Fields in Northern California; and San Luis Rey Downs training center in Southern California. The release stated that Fravel will “focus on implementing and enforcing global best practices and integrity standards” at the properties and on “creating an unparalleled experience for both horsemen and guests.”
The Stronach Group has made a significant number of new hires over the past several months. Dr. Dionne Benson, the former executive director of the Racing Medication and Testing Consortium, joined the company in late April as its chief safety officer, and in August, the company hired Steve Koch, the former head of the NTRA Safety and Integrity Alliance and a former racing executive for Woodbine, as a vice president of racing.
The Stronach Group has not had a chief executive officer since Alon Ossip left the company two years ago as part of the feud between Frank Stronach and his daughter. Ossip was based at the company’s nominal headquarters in Toronto, but executives with the company are based in markets around the U.S.
A native of Maryland, Fravel was a longtime California resident, with the habits to match, and he has been based in Lexington since joining the Breeders’ Cup eight years ago.
The Breeders’ Cup said in a release that it is “evaluating the next steps to fill Fravel’s position.” When the company hired Fravel, to replace Greg Avioli, now the head of the Thoroughbred Owners of California, the board interviewed six candidates.
“On behalf of our board and our Members, we extend our heartfelt thanks and appreciation to Craig for his outstanding leadership and enormous accomplishment as our president and CEO these past eight years,” said Fred Hertrich III, who was elected to a second term as Breeders’ Cup chairman at a board meeting on Thursday. “His management and stewardship of the organization, not to mention his quick wit and calm demeanor, will be greatly missed by all of us.”
During Fravel’s tenure, the Breeders’ Cup expanded to two new host tracks, Del Mar and Keeneland in Lexington, Kentucky, ending a long stranglehold on the event at regular hosts such as Churchill and Santa Anita. The event returns to Santa Anita on Nov. 1-2 of this year, its 10th time as a Breeders’ Cup host.
The criticism surrounding the Santa Anita meet this year led the board to consider changing the location of the event this year, but that option was emphatically struck down by a unanimous vote of the board in June. Nonetheless, the event is expected to attract a host of scrutiny when Santa Anita opens its fall meet late in September.